267. Memorandum for the Record0

Ambassador Alphand came in to see me at 7:15 this evening. He had been asking for an appointment all day and I had told him that I would call him after a meeting which I had to attend with the President at 5:30. I did so, and he came.

He began with the statement that we were going through difficult days and that in his opinion we would get through them. He said that they reminded him of the days in which the European defense community was coming to a crisis, days which he remembered because he had been the principal French negotiator in favor of this community. He recalled the period in which Mr. Mendes-France had opposed the EDC, and then there had followed the negotiations looking toward a different solution, in which the Germans joined NATO. At the time he, Ambassador Alphand, had been opposed to this second arrangement, but since then he had concluded that it was right. Similarly he hoped that the current differences might lead to a good solution. In particular he sought to press upon me the possibility that if the British should not get into the Common Market, an alternative arrangement could in fact be worked out, in terms of association—and on reflection I believe that it was this idea, the promotion of a British associate membership, which was at the root of his visit.

Ambassador Alphand continued with an expression of his great concern over the degree to which the press had interpreted General de Gaulle’s press conference and other recent events as implying a deep division between the purposes of the French Government and those of the United States. He said that he thought there might be differences in emphasis, but no difference in fundamental purpose. He said that he had brought me the recent speech of Couve de Murville in the French Chamber and that he had read and studied this speech and the General’s press conference with great care and he thought that American press was emphasizing—indeed greatly overemphasizing—points of difference, and ignoring the numerous olive branches which he, the Ambassador, was able to find in these speeches.

I then allowed myself to say to the Ambassador that I thought the world, the press, and the United States Government were in very little doubt as to the purposes and meaning of the press conference of the President of France. We had reached the conclusion that the President of [Page 756] France did not want Great Britain in the Common Market and had decided to prevent British entry. I did not think that it would be a great contribution to Franco-American understanding to attempt to obscure this opinion of the President of France, and I was willing to venture the opinion that if General de Gaulle were with us he would agree that this was his purpose. Ambassador Alphand replied rather stiffly that he did not so interpret the press conference of President de Gaulle. We danced around this problem for a few minutes and then I said that since it was not a matter of immediate and direct interest to the United States, I was prepared to rest my own opinion upon the judgments which had been expressed by so many Europeans in recent days. Ambassador Alphand said, again rather stiffly, that he thought we must indeed have an opinion, since we had been expressing it so strongly with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany. I said that I did not think he should suppose that the opinions of the Federal Republic were different from those of Europeans as a whole.

Ambassador Alphand then reverted to the broad question of the purposes of our two countries and repeated his view that there was no serious difference between us. I said that I would like nothing better than to accept this opinion, but that what limited my acceptance of his proposition was the fact that General de Gaulle had so often expressed purposes and attitudes which seemed to me not to be consistent with the view of the Alliance which I believed to be that of my Government—and so far as I knew that of Ambassador Alphand himself. I read to the Ambassador certain striking passages from the third volume of General de Gaulle’s memoirs, passages in which General de Gaulle put forth clearly his intent to establish France as the leading force in a third world power—a continental European group so situated as to play the role of arbiter between the Anglo-Saxons and the Soviets. Ambassador Alphand asked me when this opinion had been expressed, and I told him. I also said to the Ambassador that in a search of General de Gaulle’s writings I was unable to find any passage in which he had indicated any approval of the continued presence of American troops in Europe. The Ambassador’s reply was that, so far as he knew, General de Gaulle had never expressed his opposition to this presence.

Somewhere along the line, Ambassador Alphand asked me why the Americans should be so concerned about exaggerated press reports of this sort. I made it clear, in reply, that the United States did not feel that the position taken by General de Gaulle could or should be allowed to interfere with the basic development of the Atlantic Alliance. I made it clear that whatever might happen at Brussels, and whatever might be the opinion of the Elysee, the United States would naturally wish to continue with the basic policy and purpose which had governed our affairs for fifteen years, and which, to the best of our knowledge and belief, corresponded [Page 757] with the desires and purposes of the majority of the people of Europe. In the course of this argument I said to Ambassador Alphand that we did not suppose that Europe and the Elysee were precisely the same thing—to which he said that he entirely agreed. In repeating my concern about General de Gaulle’s possible desire to eliminate the American presence from Europe, I stirred Ambassador Alphand to remark that not as an Ambassador, but as an inspector of finances, he was himself of the opinion that we could not indefinitely sustain a large internal deficit, a deficit on the balance of payments, and four hundred thousand men in Europe. He thought that we would wish to withdraw some men from Europe, but that everything depended upon the way in which these rearrangements were worked out within the Alliance. And I said that I agreed on this last point, although I thought he should understand that in our judgment large deficits were now a clear source of national strength.

Ambassador Alphand kept repeating that the General was entirely loyal to the Atlantic Alliance and that we need have no fear of any reversal of alliances. I said that I was not disposed to disbelieve him, but that I did think there was a likelihood that General de Gaulle might have a concept of the Alliance which was old-fashioned and in fact unworkable. It appeared to me that he might believe that the Americans could be persuaded to remove their forces from Europe, and keep out of European affairs except in the event of emergency, in which case they would be reliably at hand, with their strategic nuclear strength. I said that I thought this was not a workable idea, and that if French diplomacy should seem to seek an American withdrawal of this sort, it would be foolhardy to suppose that the guarantees of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty could remain reliably in force. I did not add that there was an obvious inconsistency between this apparent long-term goal of President de Gaulle’s and his repeated current assertions that there could be no guarantee of American reliability in the present situation.

In this connection I had occasion to remark to Ambassador Alphand that while we recognize General de Gaulle’s right to pursue the goal of an independent nuclear deterrent, and could only regret our own difference of view, without bitterness, we did find it troubling to learn from Chancellor Adenauer that General de Gaulle had spoken to him of the French nuclear deterrent as a good means of triggering American nuclear forces in time of need. It did not seem to us that this concept was likely to lead to fruitful or mutually confident relations among nuclear allies. Ambassador Alphand said that the General had never said anything of this sort to him; I charitably changed the subject.

Ambassador Alphand did recognize that both the President and the Secretary of State had behaved in a most correct fashion and had in fact avoided saying anything which could add to misunderstanding. [Page 758] Since he said this in what seemed to me a patronizing tone, I told him of my regret that I could not make the same comment about the press conference of President de Gaulle. He stiffened again. I tried to give him relaxation by repeating my view that the opinions and attitudes of the Government of France would not in fact disturb us in our effort to continue in a pattern of trust and cooperation with Europe as whole.

McG. B.1
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, France. Confidential. Dictated by McGeorge Bundy at 9:45 p.m. on January 28.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.